1. The initial circulatory adjustments induced by head-up tilt and tilt-back were investigated in six healthy subjects (aged 30–58 years) and six patients with orthostatic hypotension due to pure autonomic failure (aged 33–65 years).
2. Continuous responses of finger arterial pressure and heart rate were recorded by Finapres. A pulse contour algorithm applied to the arterial pressure waveform was used to compute stroke volume responses.
3. In the healthy subjects, head-up tilt induced gradual circulatory adjustments. After 1 min upright stroke volume and cardiac output had decreased by 39 ± 9% and 26 ± 10% respectively. Little change in mean blood pressure at heart level (+1 ± 7 mmHg) indicated that systemic vascular resistance had increased by 39 ± 24%. The gradual responses to head-up tilt contrasted with the pronounced and rapid circulatory responses upon tilt-back. After 2–3 s a rapid increase in stroke volume (from 62 ± 8% to 106 ± 10%) and cardiac output (from 81 ± 11% to 118 ± 20%) was observed with an overshoot of mean arterial pressure above supine control values of 16 ± 3 mmHg at 7 s. In the patients a progressive fall in blood pressure on head-up tilt was observed. After 1 min upright mean blood pressure had decreased by 59 ± 8 mmHg. No change in systemic vascular resistance and a larger decrease in stroke volume (60 ± 7%) and cardiac output (53 ± 8%) were found. On tilt-back a gradual recovery of blood pressure was observed.
4. In healthy humans upon head-up tilt neural compensatory mechanisms are very effective in maintaining arterial pressure at heart level. The gradual circulatory adjustments to head-up tilt in healthy subjects contrast with the pronounced and abrupt circulatory changes on tilt-back. In patients with a lack of neural circulatory reflex adjustments, gradual blood pressure decreases to head-up tilt and gradual increases to tilt-back are observed.